Racial segregation takes new forms, study shows

Recent research has shown that racial segregation in the U.S. is declining between neighborhoods, but a new study indicates that segregation is manifesting itself in other ways.

“We just can’t get too excited by recent declines in neighborhood segregation,” said lead author Daniel Lichter, the Ferris Family Professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management and a professor in the Department of Sociology at Cornell University. “The truth is neighborhood segregation still remains high in America, and our study also shows that segregation is increasingly occurring at different scales of geography.”

Daniel Lichter

While segregation from neighborhood to neighborhood (micro-segregation) is decreasing within metropolitan areas, suburban communities increasingly are becoming racially homogenous (macro-segregation).

“Let’s look at the community of Ferguson, Missouri, for example,” said Lichter, who is also director of the Cornell Population Center. “Whites have left Ferguson mostly for white suburban communities even farther from the urban core that is St. Louis. The racial composition of Ferguson went from about 25 percent black to 67 percent black in a 20-year period. Though one would be correct in saying that segregation decreased between neighborhoods in Ferguson, the change simply reflects massive white depopulation.”

The study, “Toward a New Macro-Segregation? Decomposing Segregation Within and Between Metropolitan Cities and Suburbs,” appears in the August issue of American Sociological Review. Lichter and co-authors Domenico Parisi, professor of sociology and director of the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center (nSPARC) at Mississippi State University, and Michael C. Taquino, associate research professor and the deputy director of nSPARC, analyzed U.S. Census data from 1990-2010 and examined micro, macro and total racial segregation across 222 metropolitan areas.

“One of our major findings is that suburban communities are becoming more segregated from each other,” Lichter said. “Cities and communities – not just neighborhoods – matter. Over the past decade or so, some suburban communities have become more racially diverse, even as whites have moved out to other growing suburbs farther from the city or have moved back to the city as part of the gentrification process. In the late 1970s, there was a famous study titled, ‘Chocolate City, Vanilla Suburbs,’ which highlighted that blacks generally lived in large cities while whites lived in suburban communities. Our study shows that minority population growth in the suburbs has fundamentally shifted historic patterns of residential segregation in this country.”

Consistent with previous studies, Lichter found that the highest level of macro-segregation is between blacks and whites, the lowest is between Asians and whites, and the level between Hispanics and whites occupies an intermediate position.

“If segregation is our measure, we have a long way to go before we are truly a post-racial society,” said Lichter, who noted that suburban communities use housing, taxation and zoning laws to include or exclude racial and ethnic minorities.

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Joe Schwartz